Reports: Vietnam’s rights situation has worsened since last review

Upcoming UN review should be leveraged to bolster protections, experts say.
By RFA Vietnamese
2023.10.24
Reports: Vietnam’s rights situation has worsened since last review The United Nations Development Programme and the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs held a Universal Periodic Review workshop in Hanoi in late April 2023.
State media/VietnamNet

UPDATED on Oct. 25, 2023 at 1:15 p.m. ET

With just six months remaining until the next round of an important human rights review of Vietnam, rights organizations reported that Hanoi actually increased suppression since the last round four years ago – and the situation continues to worsen.

In preparation for the U.N. Human Rights Council’s 4th Universal Periodic Review on Vietnam, or UPR, in April 2024, three rights groups – the Vietnam-based Defend the Defenders and Brotherhood for Democracy and the U.S.-based Vietnam Human Rights Network– this month submitted two joint reports to the council documenting the situation since the third review in 2019.

The groups said that Vietnam uses vague provisions in its penal code to protect the current one-party structure of power on the premise of protecting national security, thereby seriously violating fundamental human rights, including freedoms of speech, association, and assembly.

They called on the one-party state to release prisoners of conscience and amend its laws towards respecting universal human rights.

Nguyen Ba Tung, head of the Vietnam Human Rights Network, told RFA Vietnamese that during the previous review, the government promised to respect universal rights and craft related laws to enable its citizens to exercise these rights. However, over the past four years, Hanoi has continued to procrastinate in making the laws.

“Notably, [the government] has been using vague provisions in its Penal Code, such as Articles 88, 117, and 331, to arrest those who dare to speak up and have opinions contrary to those of the ruling party.”

The three articles are often used to bring charges against bloggers, journalists, activists and other people whom the government wishes to silence. 

260 prisoners of conscience

According to Defend the Defenders, Vietnam holds 260 prisoners of conscience.

Among that number, 63 are accused or convicted of “conducting anti-State propaganda,” 44 for “abusing democratic freedoms” due to exercising freedom of speech and 39 for “carrying out activities to overthrow the government” due to exercising freedom of association.

Another 55 are detained for “undermining the unity policy” due to exercising freedom of religion. Many are also charged with “disturbing security” after exercising their freedom of staging peaceful demonstrations, all under the three problematic articles.

“We put forward several recommendations,” Tung said. “We asked [the government] to release those who have been arrested for exercising freedom of speech and freedom of association, for example, people from the Brotherhood for Democracy and those who had been arrested when using their freedom of speech.”

He said the reports also recommended urgent revisions to the laws Hanoi promised to change under the last review.

Worsening rights situation

The government needs to change laws that, in practice, protect those in power rather than the people, said Nguyen Van Dai, the co-founder and chairman of the Brotherhood for Democracy who is also an attorney. 

“In general, the Vietnamese authoritarian communist government must eliminate all of those [vague] provisions in the penal code and replace them with new ones protecting people’s basic human rights.”

The international community should use Vietnam’s upcoming review as an opportunity to improve rights in Vietnam, Andrea Giorgetta, the director of the International Federation For Human Rights Asian Office, told RFA.

“As the Vietnamese government intensifies its repression of peaceful dissent, the Universal Periodic Review is one of the few remaining fora for the international community to scrutinize Hanoi’s abysmal human rights record,” he said.

“We urge U.N. member states to use the periodic review of Vietnam’s human rights record to show their concern about violations in the country and to demand Hanoi comply with its international human rights obligations.”

He said the international community should call on Hanoi to release all political prisoners, amend draconian laws, and ensure the respect of human rights of all people in the country.”

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

Update corrects the name of Defend the Defenders.

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